Defenceman Henri Jokiharju may have missed Wednesday’s practice for the Chicago Blackhawks with an illness, but he was back at it Thursday and will be in the lineup against the Minnesota Wild.
If you’re a Chicago fan, that’s a very good thing because the 19-year-old has been rocking the house for the first three games of this young season.
As teams set the stage for who stays and who goes among their rookie contingencies, Jokiharju is very much in the picture. The Finnish blueliner has five points in three games and averages 19:39 of ice time on the top pairing with Duncan Keith.
Against the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 7, Jokiharju skated for over 20 minutes and had five shots on goal to go with a three-assist performance.
That’s pretty solid stuff, putting the defenceman fourth among rookies in points per game and third among rookies in shots on goal per game.
Tuesday, the Blackhawks had Jokiharju practicing on the first power play unit.
That can only mean more ice time, which will push his stats higher. That makes him an interesting bet, especially given his knack for putting the puck on net from the point. That’s a skill that doesn’t come easy for many seasoned veterans, but Jokiharju did the job against the Maple Leafs and set up a John Hayden rebound goal.
Jokiharju was selected by Chicago in the first round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He made the opening night roster this season in large part due to the absence of Connor Murphy, who’s out eight weeks with a back injury.
But Jokiharju’s play has made the case for him to stick around a little longer, even after Murphy returns, and that could mean the rookie spends the season up in the big leagues.
The defenceman, after all, has earned a stamp of approval from coach Joel Quennevile.
“I like his competitiveness. I like his poise and patience for a youngster,” Quenneville says. “He’s only going to get better in how he’s going to read situations, play around his net in his own end. But I like how he wants the puck. He really has good patience and good play-recognition.”
That’s high praise from a coach who isn’t in the business of delivering high praise very often, especially when it comes to rookies. And if that’s how things are shaping up now, the future is very, very bright for Jokiharju in Chicago.